Health Education England will pay for courses to encourage former nurses to return to the profession, Nursing Times can reveal ahead of a campaign to help address national staff shortages.
Those serious about returning to practice will also get up to £500 expenses and guaranteed placements, and should be able to walk into a job, according to the organisers of the new Come Back to Nursing campaign.
The education and training body is pinning its hopes on tempting former nurses back to the profession as part of measures to address the chronic nursing shortage currently affecting the country. Recruitment problems have led many trusts to urgently seek nurses from overseas.
“HEE is going to pay the fees for nurses coming back to practice so they don’t have to fund it themselves”
Professor Janice Stevens, managing director of Health Education West Midlands, has led work to review and improve existing return to practice (RTP) schemes in readiness for the campaign.
Professor Stevens said she hoped the revamped RTP schemes would be “inundated” with applications, though she admitted she “did not know” how many ex-nurses might be interested.
“The really good thing is that to kick-start this, HEE is going to pay the fees for nurses coming back to practice so they don’t have to fund it themselves,” she told Nursing Times. “This is for those who want a job and not just people who fancy getting their registration back.
“We want a safe pair of hands available to work in care, so we’re paying the course fee and also offering a bursary of around £500 to help people with costs like travel,” she said.
In the past, nurses were paid to attend RTP courses and their course fees were covered. However, the level of support has diminished over the years, with some returning nurses still offered bursaries but many having to fund courses themselves.
HEE has committed to funding courses for the “next few months”, starting from late autumn, but will look at extending the scheme depending on demand, said Professor Stevens.
Those who take up the offer will also have placements arranged for them, she said, after her review revealed some people’s hopes of returning to nursing had been scuppered by a lack of placements or problems arranging them.
“We will sort out placements locally,” said Professor Stevens. “Crucially, the idea is Higher Education Institutions will be recruiting with trusts that have got vacancies, so will aim to place people in areas where there are jobs.
“There will be jobs available, and the information available to people will not only include where the courses are but also where the jobs are,” she added.
At the moment, Professor Stevens said HEE had no clear idea of the likely scale of demand. “The only stat we’ve got is how many people’s registration has lapsed, and it is thousands and thousands,” she said.
“I don’t know what percentage of those will be interested but I am hoping we will be inundated. I would be delighted if I had the headache of thinking ‘how are we going to get all these people that are interested back to practice as fast as possible’,” she said.
The initiative stems from intensive work to improve the consistency of RTP schemes, after initial research revealed wide variation in their quality, price and availability across England.
This has included standardising the basic content of RTP courses and ensuring courses were on offer in every Local Education and Training Board (LETB) region.
“We worked with nurses that came back to practice, nurses in practice, HEIs and others to agree what the key components of a RTP course should be,” said Professor Stevens.
“We didn’t re-write curriculums and haven’t had to re-validate courses – some of them were fine and some just needed a bit of updating or tinkering. But what we have now is a checklist for anybody wanting to commission an RTP course that says it must include these elements.”
“We are really optimistic that people will have a really positive experience overall”
The project has also sought greater consistency in the cost of courses, after uncovering huge variation from £600 to £1,500 per participant.
“We have basically set a ceiling,” said Professor Stevens. “We’ve said to all LETBs that if an HEI is charging more than that then they should re-negotiate.”
Professor Stevens promised nurses who had already attempted to return, but been put off due to “bad experiences”, such as problems accessing courses or finding work, could now expect an entirely different set-up.
“It is just going to be so much easier,” she said. “We are really optimistic that people will have a really positive experience overall.”
The Come Back to Nursing campaign, which is due to “go live” on 29 September, will consist of a series of regional recruitment drives as well as relying on the power of social media and word of mouth, said Professor Stevens.
HEE is linking up with organisations like the Royal College of Nursing and NHS Employers to promote the scheme.
Interested in returning to practice?
Find out more on our return to practice section